Share story

WASHINGTON — Some popular impulse purchases — tattoos and body piercings — could soon become less impulsive if District of Columbia health regulators have their way.

A mandatory 24-hour waiting period is among the provisions included in a 66-page package of draft regulations governing the “body-art” industry released Friday by the city Health Department.

If the waiting period is adopted, Washington, D.C., will become one of a very few places in the nation where a person cannot walk into a tattoo parlor and walk out with a tattoo.

That’s what Marcela Onyango, 25, did Friday afternoon, when she got her mother’s birth year — 1961 — tattooed on her rib cage at Fatty’s Custom Tattooz. It’s something she has been thinking about since her mom died three years ago, and she said she doesn’t think the government should make her wait another day.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“That’s stupid. I think you shouldn’t tell people what to do,” Onyango said. “We’re all adults. It’s not their business.”

The proposal is a sticking point for those who work in the industry, too.

It’s “honestly ridiculous,” said Paul Roe, who operates the Britishink tattoo parlor. Roe, 45, testified in favor of a D.C. Council bill allowing the Health Department to regulate body-art establishments because rules setting standards on hygiene, record keeping and licensing make sense, he said. The waiting period, he said, does not.

City officials insist the rule will protect the public. Najma Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said the new regulations were mandated by a law the council approved last year and are mainly intended to prevent “serious health risks.”

The waiting period is based on rules in at least two Wisconsin municipalities. Roberts said it is meant to save body-art consumers from permanent consequences they might come to regret, particularly if they seek tattoos or piercings while drunk or otherwise impaired.

“They can’t be responsible for themselves, as well as the person doing the work on them,” she said. “We’re making sure when that decision is made that you’re in the right frame of mind, and you don’t wake up in the morning … saying: ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ ”

Most reputable tattoo shops turn away customers who are visibly intoxicated, Roe said. Codifying that practice, he said, would make more sense than preventing sober and consenting adults from getting tattoos or piercings on demand.

“Simple regulation is effective regulation,” he said. “Overregulation will … drive it underground and make it less safe for everybody.”

The body-art rules also include mandatory hepatitis B vaccinations and biohazard training for all tattoo artists and body-piercers, and strict requirements on the use of needles, inks, gloves and other equipment.

With the exception of certain ear piercings, tattoos and piercings would be banned for those younger than 18.

The future of the proposed wait is uncertain. The public has 30 days to comment on the draft rules, and it is not uncommon for regulations to be toned down as a result.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray, said Gray has “serious doubts about the regulations as proposed” and will consider the comments received before issuing final regulations.

Gilda Acosta, an artist at Fatty’s, said about half her business comes from walk-ins, so the proposed rule would hurt.
Acosta, who gave Onyango her tiny tattoo, said most customers have thought out their artwork for a long time before they take a seat in her leather chair. “It would definitely be a direct hit to my income if I couldn’t tattoo people who come in and want work done on the same day,” Acosta said. 32, who has been tattooing for a decade.

Before the D.C. Council passed the body-art legislation last year, the tattoo and piercing business was not subject to special regulations, unlike most states.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.